Quick! What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of 76.3 million? That it’s a rather large number. But this really is not the case, when it comes to PC shipments, calamitous sales of PC hardware.

The first quarter of the year has just ended, and market analysts have just filed in their accumulated numbers of PCs shipped worldwide. And as things stand, the figure achieved by the industry is as low as it has ever been.

IDC just published its latest report and though analysts did expect a decline in shipments during this period (keep in mind, this quarter followed the Holiday shopping season), the fall was a lot worse. Things turned out to be totally dire.

As David Daoud, IDC research director for personal computing noted:

“Although the reduction in shipments was not a surprise, the magnitude of the contraction is both surprising and worrisome.

The industry is going through a critical crossroads, and strategic choices will have to be made as to how to compete with the proliferation of alternative devices and remain relevant to the consumer. Vendors will have to revisit their organizational structures and go to market strategies, as well as their supply chain, distribution, and product portfolios in the face of shrinking demand and looming consolidation.”

So then, just how bad were things, anyway?

Brace for some worrying numbers — the decline amounted to 13.9 percent, year-on-year. Nope, not the quarter-on-quarter change, shipments fell sharply compared to the same period last year (7.7 percent), making this the worst quarter IDC has tracked in terms of declines.

And IDC has been tracking this since 1994.

What this means for the future of the PC industry? Hardware vendors will have to pretty much change the way they go about business. Some may even be forced to leave the business altogether, or transition to other devices like tablets and smartphones.

But this much is clear — the days of the past are long gone. Netbooks are nowhere to be seen, while ultrabooks are still finding their ground rather slowly, as Windows 8 got off to a lukewarm start.

And if things don’t change for the better, prepare to see the Top Five (HP, Lenovo, Dell, Acer and ASUS) gobble up most of the smaller players pretty soon.

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